Paul W. Scharff
August 5, 1930 – April 29, 2014
A Thread of Light
Rudolf Steiner tells how spiritual beings wishing to incarnate onto the earth bring individuals together who will be the parents. And so it was that Georgiana De Jong and Fritz Scharff were destined to meet on the North Sea in a cattle boat going over the English Channel at which time Georgiana was chastising the captain for his mistreatment of the horses he was carrying. This spritely, determined voice sparked an interest in Fritz Scharff and this began their future life together.
Georgia was born and raised in mid-west America in Iowa. She learned and mastered many aspects of the work on the farm where they lived. The greatest influence in her early life was the untimely death of her sister that led her to her mission of becoming a doctor. She entered medical school as the only woman physician in her class at a time when women physicians were rare or unknown. She then entered into a life of service, going to Kentucky to serve in a small mission hospital, spending many of her hours riding horse back from village to village or to single homes in the hills of Kentucky tending the poor and the needy. While there, she sought further educational experiences and took leave to go to Vienna to study pediatrics.
This led to her meeting with Fritz Scharff as described above. Fritz was born in Vienna and received his higher educational experiences at the Technical University in Vienna. His life there had given him a rich cultural heritage. It was during the First World War that he served in the armed forces and was taught ballistics by Walter Johannes Stein, one of the early Waldorf School teachers. He gave Fritz Occult Science to read but the first reading didn’t touch him sufficiently. Walter Johannes Stein gave it back to him and told him to read it again. Fritz became a dedicated student in his pursuit of Anthroposophy. Important in his life was the death of his brother who was killed during the war.
This couple pursued their life together back in the hills of Kentucky where Fritz worked in Churchill Weavers, a organization dedicated to bringing weaving as a home industry movement to these mountain people. Ultimately they moved to Lorain, Ohio, a town along the shores of Lake Erie, where at least a quarter of the population were composed of people from all over the world, many being employed in the large U.S. Steel plant. During these depression times, Fritz was able to find work as a laborer there as well. Georgia established a medical practice in their home.
Their first child, Carl was then born, a child who was to carry his destiny as an uncontrolled epileptic for 56 years. Two years later, their second child, Paul, was born. As Carl’s illness picture became clear, neither parent would consider institutionalization. With this, the needs of this child started to unfold what became a small community of people to build a life commensurate with his needs. This included a two-year period for him living at the Sonnenhoef in Arlesheim Switzerland, after which time he was ready to return to America. To prepare for this, two things were needed. One was that the Scharffs moved to a farm near Lorain in Amherst, Ohio, located on Oberlin Rd. Oberlin College was at the other end of the road. The second was the unfolding of the future life work of Margaret Deussen. She was a musician, graduating from the Conservatory of Music in Berlin. She worked with Dr. Otto Palmer, the first Anthroposophical Doctor in Germany and while there, she became very active in Anthroposophy and participated in the effort to bring the Threefold Social Order to the German Government. Later she spent time in Dornach taking up curative education and eurythmy. She accompanied Carl back to the United States and became a member of the household. Her interests and experiences were major influences in Paul’s life.
One further individual entered into that family when Paul was 13. He asked to have a normal brother within their home where the social relationships of another young person seemed an important experience for him. The County Orphanage provided the possibility to fulfill this wish and with it Joe Selmants came to be a member of the Scharff family.
As all of this was unfolding, Paul was growing up, living on the farm, participating in the activities relating to the animals, fields, orchard and gardens, all that we know in our lives here at the Fellowship Community. These were intimate and vital experiences for him all of which laid a foundation for our work here. This included toting around his Mother’s black bag as he joined her on house calls to see her ailing patients. It also included setting up a little wood shop in the old coal room when they no longer needed coal for stoking the furnace. This was the beginning of the wood shop and the many building needs here over the years. During these early years, he and his brother shared the same bedroom. The experience of living with an individual with epilepsy was an integral part of his life. Seizures in the middle of the night were not uncommon. The anguish and torment of the epileptic before a seizure could be experienced sometimes for days prior to a seizure. Then came the seizure and for Paul this was followed by an aura of light, living light, a guiding light of such magnitude that it has been and will continue to be a guiding light for the evolution of this community. For those who have been here over the years, they will know how individuals with epilepsy have played a significant role.
Some life shaping events to be shared:
Six years old – a visit to the farm from Ehrenfried Pfeiffer to advise the Scharffs and Margaret Deussen on various aspects of the care of their farm. This first meeting with Pfeiffer included making preparations together.
A rich cultural heritage surrounded him – music (piano and voice) – Paul took up the violin – Oberlin Conservatory students joined in.
Early school years – was considered a dumbling with the teacher asking his Mother to withdraw him from school. He would never learn.
Grade 1 – the blacksmith shop outside the window of his first grade class was of great interest.
The school was in a farm community housing all twelve grades – the janitor, Carl Schifferstein, was at the door daily greeting each as they entered and left for the day. For Paul this individual was like an angelic being tending of the school. He wished to be a janitor.
12-13 years: A life long question posed by the superintendent, Mr. Powers, who placed 3 plus 4 equals 7 on the blackboard and then asked the class what had happened with the plus and equals. No answer. This question was pursued by Paul for years.
This was an awakening time.
Upon graduation from school, a teacher said, “We loved you, but never understood you”
College at Oberlin – very intense and difficult. There were many pre-med students but only 17 graduated having fulfilled the requirements. Paul developed significant problems with ulcers over that time – stress and need for very hard work was great. I could add here that illness was a constant companion through out his life starting in his teens.
I too was a student at Oberlin with a long history of a connection to Oberlin. I would only mention the import of John Frederick Oberlin in our community work here for that is a story in and of itself. Toward the end of Paul’s senior year, there was a meeting of students in what is called Finney Chapel. Paul saw me at a distance and recognized our relationship. This was confirmed in a dream that night. He found me in the library the following morning. I knew that I just met the man whom I would marry.
In autumn of that year, 1952, Paul started his 4 years in Western Reserve Medical School. It did not take him long to learn that independent thinking and ideas contrary to the established thinking of the day was not an acceptable thing. He was early on called into the Dean’s office and told that he was there to learn what was being taught otherwise he would be asked to leave the school. It was not for him to question. The studies in Anthroposophy were a daily part of his work, taking up the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as a continual challenge. We also worked together with a physician, Dr. George Deutsch, studying educational lectures and those on the Gospels.
Following medical school there was a years internship in Cooperstown, New York followed by 2 years of military service in the Public Health and then our move to Spring Valley.
Service time – Public Health –
Baltimore, Maryland – His office worked with the beginning of the Medicare Laws and their implementation. There was already at this time a strong recognition that with these laws, patient care would not be the emphasis, but procedures with minimum time for talking to patients. What would that mean for individuals in the future – a view of the care of the aging came as a huge question.
Our first child was born – Christopher
A further year in the Public Health was spent in West Va. – in charge of the hospital in the only Federal Women’s Penitentiary – Industrialization of medicine and procedure driven therapeutics was already growing.
A look into the future brought us to Spring Valley in 1959.
The work ahead included 8 more years of residency training in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. For Paul this was necessary in order to work medically with the realities of understanding illnesses of the physical body and illnesses of the soul.
It brought a renewed connection with Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and the esoteric impulses with which he strove. Pfeiffer expressed concern by Rudolf Steiner that human anatomy and physiology would be crucial for a deeper understanding of Spiritual Science – a challenge and task that Paul strove to take up and work with.
Christoph Linder – First Anthroposophical Physician – sent by Ita Wegman. Within the Anthroposophical Society he helped form the Fellowship Committee to help the old, ill and needy. Later he was instrumental in the forming of the Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation, which out of a last minute suggestion by the lawyer, Paul was included as a member of the Board of Directors.
Dick Kroth – an artist who took up new impulses in the use of color and painting methods indicated by Rudolf Steiner. Active in Anthroposophical Society – helping fledging efforts to build work groups – an artist in the social process of community building. The current eurythmy school was intended to be his studio
Michael, our second child, was born celebrating our arrival into the Threefold Community followed in 1961 by Katherine’s birth when her grandparents, Carl and Miss Deussen moved from Lorain to join us. It was also the year Nancy Laughlin, our neighbor and philanthropist called in October with her urgent and formative question to Paul: “What can we do with the Monges property? Lisa is contemplating selling it and it can’t go out on the open market. This is in the middle of the Threefold Community.” She agreed to purchase the land and Paul agreed to stand behind her in unfolding an intergenerational community work with a focus on the care of the elderly. He knew of an inactive existing Foundation that could be used as the legal basis for such a work. This was the Rudolf Steiner Fellowship Foundation.
Knowing from his brother the 24/7 care needs of individuals
Concerns in the care of the Aging – Regimen of established institutions as in
Procedure driven medical care
Neglect of care needs because of skeletal weekend and holiday staffing
Very little interest in the problems of aging with no sense for the coming “crisis” in
our society and in the world.
Insights of Rudolf Steiner for all ages.
Birthing pains – Need for a humanly concerned lawyer – Max Mason
Town of Ramapo – needing variance in zoning laws to build – finally approved as
”An Experiment in Long Term Care”.
Who could help to get started? The care of old people was not popular – Liesel and
Willi Ringwald – guided in their decision to come help out of the early death of
their daughter – Guidance of the living dead in future community building – an
event in the life of Oberlin
Dedication of the Fellowship Community – July 3, 1966
Birth of John, our last child
Major impulses can only be touched upon.
Intergenerational, work based, long-term care community – How to do this – to
find a way of working?
New impulses to move away from the industrialization and mechanization of our
growing culture with the loss of a concern for the human individuality.
Birthing of New Social Forms – indicated in a letter from Rudolf Steiner to Marie
Guiding ideas of the Threefold Social Order
Intergenerational community – where the old and the young serve one another –
support the growing younger of the spirit of the aging individual whose body
becomes older and the spirit becomes younger–learn to support the dying by
tending a room to make it a womb for the new birth
Care of the earth – biodynamic
Care of the Social Process – including serving the 7 days of the week
Activity unfolding from work with Anthroposophy
Study of Anthroposophy and the life and work of Rudolf Steiner
Bringing Anthroposophy into daily life
Active unfolding of festival life
Unfolding of the School of Spiritual Science in our midst
A Class Holder for many years
Work with others to establish the Collegium
Medically related work
An active Medical Practice
Forming of the Fellowship of Physicians
Anthroposophical Therapy and Hygiene Association (ANTHA) – concern for
health care as a social issue
Educational work to help co-workers learn how to care for our elderly, the ill
and those crossing the Threshold
Medical Section Work
Legal Political Action– Rights
Initial variances that made it possible to start our work
Formed “Patient’s Have Rights” – a political action group
Three New York State Laws passed to permit variances in the law to
support care in a community – 1985,1999, 2011
Two laws for freedom in Health Care –
Work with other organizations to support a federal law establishing the Office
of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine within the National Institutes of
Health in Bethesda, Maryland
Medical Access Law passed in the New York State Legislature to permit freedom
of choice in health care.
These are just a few thoughts about our nearly 48 years of the Fellowship Community.
Many here will have shared in this. Each can bring another part of the whole story. Paul’s dedicated work together with hundreds of others and his intense, active life will stand as a living reality to grow into the future with those here now and those who will come to join into this evolving endeavor.